6th Circuit Affirms $50M Verdict Against DuPont Over ‘Forever Chemicals’

On Monday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed $40 million and $10 million jury verdicts against E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (DuPont) for personal injuries caused by “forever chemicals” in In re: Travis Abbott, et al v. E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

According to the court’s opinion, DuPont began discharging large quantities of C-8, a “forever chemical” that accumulates in the human body, into the Ohio River and areas surrounding its plant in West Virginia. Further, the complaint states that DuPont became aware that C-8 was a human carcinogen and caused several diseases, but continued to discharge C-8 at increasing levels between 1984 to 2000. 

In the early 2000s, several class action lawsuits were brought against DuPont from members of the communities drinking the contaminated water caused by DuPont’s discharge of C-8 that was eventually consolidated into a Multi District Litigation. The opinion states that following two bellwether trials and a post-bellwether trial that reached jury verdicts against DuPont, it settled the remaining cases. 

However, the court purports that additional claims were filed against DuPont when they became sick or discovered the connection between their diseases and C-8, including the present case brought by Travis and Julie Abbott. The opinion states that the Abbotts lived in Pomeroy, Ohio since childhood and as a result were exposed to C-8 contaminated water for 20 years. 

In 2017, the Abbotts sued DuPont, and the court granted summary judgment on their behalf on the duty, breach and foreseeability elements of their negligence claims due to the previous cases. Following trial, the jury ultimately found causation by DuPont and awarded Travis and Julie Abbott $40 million and $10 million in damages, respectively. 

On appeal, DuPont challenged the court’s application of collateral estoppel for the duty, breach and foreseeability elements, several of the court’s evidentiary rulings related to specific causation, and the courts directed verdict denying DuPont’s statute of limitation defense. 

The Sixth Circuit held that the district court properly applied collateral estoppel for the duty, breach and foreseeability elements because they had previously been decided and reached final judgment. As for the evidentiary challenges, the court held that DuPont failed on their own merits as it did not adequately show an abuse of discretion by the district court. Further, the court also ruled against DuPont regarding its statute of limitations defense holding that Travis Abbott properly filed his claim less than two years after he became aware of the connection between C-8 and his cancer. 

Therefore, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Additionally, Judge Batchelder issued an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part stating he reversed the district court’s grant of collateral estoppel and the court’s directed verdict denying DuPont’s statute of limitation defense.